Bloggers on the Defensive

Last week two government bodies — a California court and the
Federal Elections Commission — jumped into the ever-fluid debate
about whether or not weblogs qualify as journalism.

In California, a judge handed down a tentative ruling that the
first amendment and state shield law rights that protect
journalists don’t apply to three bloggers who refused to disclose
their sources after publishing information about upcoming Apple

Also last week, Bradley Smith, one of the six commissioners on
the Federal Election Commission (FEC), warned that in just months
bloggers could be penalized under the McCain-Feingold
campaign-finance reform law. They could face fines if they
improperly link to a campaign’s Web site, or forward a political
candidate’s press release to a mailing list.

Originally in 2002, the FEC exempted the Internet from
McCain-Feingold, but a ruling by U.S. District Judge Colleen
Kollar-Kotelly last fall overturned that decision.

Speaking with CNET, Smith said fitting weblogs
into the implementation of McCain-Feingold was tricky. ‘Do we give
bloggers the press exemption? If we don’t give bloggers the press
exemption, we have the question of, do we extend this to
online-only journals like CNET?’ he said.

At the root of both developments is the growing debate about
whether bloggers qualify as bona fide journalists — something
journalists themselves can’t seem to make up their minds on. ‘For
now, bloggers are a second-tier journalistic species….’ Kurt
Andersen writes in New York Magazine. He goes on to equate
them with parasitic sucking fish. ‘They are remoras. The
and CNN and CBS News are the whales and sharks to which
Instapundit, Kausfiles, and Kos attach themselves for their free
rides. (Remoras evolved special sucking disks; bloggers have
modems.) If the sharks and whales were to go extinct, what would
the blogging remoras do? Evolve into actual

Others suggest that the bloggers are the evolved reporters. ‘The
price of professionalizing journalism was the de-voicing of the
journalist,’ Jay Rosen writes in Press Think. ‘The price
for having mass media was the atomization of the audience, who in
the broadcasting model were connected ‘up’ to the center but not
‘across’ to each other. Well, blogging is a re-voicing tool in
journalism, and the Net’s strengths in horizontal communication
mean that audience atomization is being overcome.’

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